It’s called The Speed Project, and for good reason—those who dare to do it are awfully fast, some perhaps even superhuman. They are also very adept.
The year was 1967, and Nike employee #1 Jeff Johnson had opened Blue Ribbon Sports to be able to connect with runners. Speed forward to March 29-30, 2019, and six runners from around the U.S. stepped outside the four walls of 3107 Pico at 4:00 am, well before dawn, and took on the daunting challenge of not just running but racing 300+ miles from Los Angeles’s famed Santa Monica Pier to the neon lights of Las Vegas. The competition: 41 top notch teams from around the world.
Helping represent Team Nike/Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS) was Cushman & Wakefield’s Jason Karbelk of San Francisco together with five other elite running mates hailing from different cities around the country: Sean Watson and Omar Gonzalez of Los Angeles, Tim Rossi and Becs Gentry of New York, and Carissa Galloway of Portland, OR. The team also traveled with a full support and media crew, nutrition, recovery tools, RV, 4×4, electric bikes, vans, and fast shoes!—all of which they would rely heavily on.
Disclaimer: As long as teams completed the full distance by foot (somehow, someway) there were NO RULES!—sounds like a popular scene from Grease. Not even an official route—just a suggested route of 340 miles. However, just days before the race, Team Nike did some strategic headwork to fairly and legally devise their own 300-mile map to traverse from point LA to point LV.
Using their speed and ingenuity, Team Nike’s six swooshing-runners were victorious in this epic team relay race. They completed the challenging, tiring, grueling, enduring, (insert more adjectives here), and at times painful foot battle in just a hair under 31 hours and 16 minutes. Each member testing and exerting themselves beyond their own limits, while also working hard and cohesively together to split the brutal mileage that worked out to roughly 50-60 miles each—in well under a day and a half’s time.
Karbelk, who works as a Senior Research Analyst with Cushman & Wakefield, said, “Our original strategy for the 340 mile route was changed two days before race day and opted to run a shorter 300 mile route with more than 50 miles of unknown road conditions. This new strategy was designed to win with a goal of setting a new course record by attempting to finish in under 32 hours while averaging 6:20/mi with four men and two women.”
Their strategy and ultimate teamwork paid off.
Team Nike’s winning performance marked the fastest time ever recorded for a foot run from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, as they crossed the finish line, uniformly in white tanks and Nike shorts, in a blistering official time of 31 Hours, 15 minutes, and 58 seconds. That equated to an average of just 6 minutes 14 seconds per mile. Karbelk helped lead the team by running 56 miles at an average of 5 minutes and 53 seconds per mile over 68 different handoffs. That is essentially completing a back-to-back, 2 hour and 34 minute marathon plus an extra four extra miles.
Team Nike’s legendary time also shattered the previous course record by four and a half hours.
In reflecting on the event, a now relieved Karbelk, said, “Perhaps the craziest part of our contest was at 10pm, our caravan of three sprinter vans got stuck in sand in the mountains. Fortunately, we were eventually rescued by two 4×4 cars at around 2am, which had to cram nearly all of us in. However, this also meant our three overnight runners were racing in the deep dark for seven hours only with the help of a single crew car and spotlight. One of our teammates actually lost his voice from running through the cold, moonlit wilderness alone for an hour, not knowing if we would find him.”
Asked if he’d want to compete in the run again, Karbelk expressed, “Absolutely, 100%, let’s do it. Our team and support crew was able to gain valuable experience to create a strategy and route that we expect will lower our record time even further! We didn’t set the bar, we are the bar and invite competitive teams to outsmart and race us [insert smiley face].”
Do you want to experience a taste of the race from Team Nike’s view? Here’s a BRIEF VIDEO CLIP of one of Jason Karbelk’s up/downhill legs, along with a bit of comedic encouragement from his teammate (download time may vary due to file size).
Story by Joshua Deale, Senior Communications Specialist